Repair California

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The 2010 California governor’s race is just around the corner. Barring a dramatic change, Jerry Brown has already clinched the Democratic nomination. And unless Steve Poizner gets his act together or Tom Campbell comes into an unexpected trove of cash, Meg Whitman will be the GOP nominee.

The stage will then be set for a high-stakes November showdown between two Northern California celebrities to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But another issue on the same ballot may have a greater impact on California’s future than who is elected governor. If enough valid signatures are collected to qualify, California voters could be calling a constitutional convention to reform state government.

God knows the Capitol desperately needs reform. I certainly think so. That’s why I recently signed on to help lead a citizen’s movement to change it. I left my quiet niche on the sidelines and joined a campaign to allow California citizens to rewrite the Golden State’s outmoded and archaic constitution. You can help too, by signing up athttp:// www.repaircalifornia.org.

Have you noticed that it doesn’t seem to matter who is elected because the system they are called upon to manage is dysfunctional, broken down or corrupt?

Californians thought they were electing a true independent when they recalled Gray Davis and installed Schwarzenegger as governor.

Disgusted with his handling of the state budget, voters rode Davis out of town on a rail. But the star that displaced him on the political marquee has headlined in multiple billion-dollar budget dramas that far outpace anything Californians endured during the Davis years.

In truth, Schwarzenegger is a hard-working, intelligent, charismatic public servant trapped in a Sacramento sinkhole; it would swallow up even George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the founding fathers.

California is no ordinary state. The frontier region of the 1870s has matriculated into America’s largest state, the world’s entertainment capital, high-tech epicenter and agricultural bread basket. We are a virtual nation-state, boasting the world’s eighth largest economy.

And yet we’re operating with a constitution written in 1878 that has been hacked and distorted beyond recognition. Our constitution is the third longest in the world and has been amended more than 500 times. Why does California’s constitution require 80,000 words when the finest such document ever written – the United States Constitution – contains only 4,500?

We can send the best people to Sacramento, but if the system they work within is inherently dysfunctional, how can we expect to enjoy a functional government?

After years of annual budget shortfalls and budget melodrama, 2009 brought a $20-plus billion gap between revenues and projected expenditures. For months, the state that once symbolized opportunity, invention and a spirit of enterprise became an international symbol of bloated government and failed promise.

Now comes the dark sequel: a $36 billion deficit forecast over the next 18 months, which will add to the pain of a 12 percent unemployment rate and stall the recovery of America’s most important regional economy.

But the budget would only be one item on the agenda of a constitutional convention.

Why are legislators less important than lobbyists in Sacramento? The iconic early 20th century editorial cartoon showing lobbyist Artie Samish dangling the legislature by puppet strings is still true. The convention would take a hard look at this institutional scandal.

Talk to your local city council member or your elected county supervisor and chances are they’re both fuming at Sacramento for balancing the state budget by stealing money from schools, police, fire and other locally funded services. The constitutional convention might rebalance power between state and local government so vital services cannot be held hostage.

Do we really need more than 4,000 governmental jurisdictions in California? It’s time to hit the reset button. Only constitutional change can rewrite the rules and impose discipline.

Every election features candidates spouting the same stale messages in their quest for office. Next year, however, Californians will have the opportunity to empower themselves. With a vote for the constitutional convention, citizens can take back their government, restore sanity to Sacramento and renew the fading California Dream.
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Clint Reilly was a leading political consultant for 26 years. His clients included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and former California State Senate President Pro Tem Dave Roberti.  More recently, Reilly led a battle to preserve media competition in the Bay Area via two landmark anti-trust lawsuits (Reilly v. Hearst and Reilly v. MediaNews, et. al.). This article first appeared on www.clintreilly.com and is republished with his permission.

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